Yet inevitably, each year you hear people whining about how Christmas is "commercialized" or "just about presents." To which I say: If you really think that, you are uninspired.
Think about the last time you opened a present... and it was a candle.
Or a box of chocolates.
Or a (insert interchangeable whatever whatever here).
You were probably just kind of like, "Thanks."
But now! Think about the last time you opened a present... and it was like the giver had seen into your soul!
Like the time I got reeeeeeally into Frozen, but the DJ at my karaoke bar refused to add any Frozen songs... and my buddy got me THIS, so I could play Frozen on my piano or guitar:
Or that time I got really into writing my own (completely non-pretentious) originalzzzzz... so my boyfriend got me a Rode VideoMic Directional Video Condenser Microphone with Mount. It's not something I would have thought to buy for myself. I was stupidly all, "Oh, the mic on my computer works fine!" But the difference is amazing!
Then there was the time I got my sister, who has circulation problems and extreme cold sensitivity -- and who drives a "minimalist" car (it doesn't even have power locks!) -- an AUDEW 12V Car Seat Heater. She loved it, because it was something she didn't even know existed, but ended up making her life infinitely healthier and more comfortable from about October till about May (#MidwestWeather).
Or the time I got my mom, who had been having a lot of trouble with foot pain and snowbirding in Florida for the winter, a pair of OOFOS Flip Flops, which are ultra-light, supportive, comfortable, and designed for athletes in recovery. The whole rest of the year, she couldn't stop talking about how amazing her feet felt. On the one hand, it's $40 for a pair of flip flops. On the other... my mom got way more than $40 worth of health and happiness benefits from these shoes.
And then there was the ONE time I got someone a candle -- but it was for a good reason. I was picking out a gift for my boyfriend's mom. We'd spent a week at her house the previous summer, and Justin had grown about twenty billion zucchinis in his garden. He brought them to the house and baked zucchini bread with his mom -- and, therefore, I thought the Zucchini Bread candle was a really thoughtful idea.
So the theme here is... I'm not giving gifts for the sake of giving gifts. I'm giving gifts to help. To heal. To delight. To entertain or empower. Those are the gifts I appreciate most. And those are the gifts I'm most excited about giving. Especially because you can only give a gift like that if you know/love/understand someone well.
Moreover, as I wrote in Money DOES Buy Happiness - If You Know How to Spend It,
Spending as little as $5 on someone other than yourself increases your happiness.
Scientists set up experiments across the globe, in which participants were given some amount of money (ranging from $5-$20) and telling them to either spend it on themselves or spend it on someone else. Then, at the end of the day, they had participants complete a questionnaire that measured their mood and happiness -- as well as how they spent the money.
Norton and colleagues found that the amount of money given to participants (to spend on either themselves or on others) had little impact on mood or happiness. Instead, the relative percentage of the money that they spent on others predicted happiness.
The experiments have been replicated across the globe, from Canada to Uganda. Whether participants used their money to help a friend pay for a lifesaving malaria treatment or buy a movie ticket or a coffee for a friend, they experienced similar boosts in their mood. Read more >
In the same post, I also wrote that money spent on experiences produces happiness. Money spent on possessions does not. And I would say that most families spend more on the holiday experience than the holiday gifts.
For example. My family definitely goes overboard with presents every year. But we spend the majority of our time/money baking cookies together. Going for hikes together. Playing music on the beach (or in front of a fire) together.
Perhaps one that is or will enable an experience -- a surfboard, bee keeping lessons, basketball shoes, art supplies.
Perhaps one that shows you've been listening. You've looked into their soul. You know them well. If you're doing it right, it should feel exciting and meaningful. Not materialistic.
This is not to say that I never give generic gifts. If I go to a holiday party and I didn't have time to shop or don't really know the host, I bring a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine. I want to do something to thank them for cooking such an amazing meal, hiring such a great band, or putting together such an interesting mix of people.
But if you think this is an example of commercialization and materialism... I think you're a jerk. Go read Emily Post and learn some manners.
Gifts are awesome for so many reasons. Materialism is only a small part of it.
Want to learn more? Check out Boring People Lead Boring Lives and Everything's Always Worth It: Reclaiming the 15 Minutes.